I. HALF MOON BAY: 2016
I have a terrifying recurring dream in which Donald Trump is my father.
“Isn’t this fun?” he yells from the driver’s seat of his Hummer as we barrel down Highway 1 from San Francisco to his pink, rococo mansion in Half Moon Bay. “Not really,” I invariably scream back. The setting sun burns my eyes, there are dreadlocked, Caucasian hikers who jeer up at the ostentatious car as we zip by, and I’m sick and tired of Trump-Dad’s manic desire to show me “just how fantastic of a time”we can have together. Usually by this point in the dream we’ve already been to his empty music studio (“You love to sing, right?), gone to the dealership and purchased the Yellow 2005 H2 (“You won’t believe how well these babies take tight turns once you get down around Montara”), and gobbled down a priceless lunch at Quince (“Have more of the tartar, kid”). It’s nighttime when we pull into his horseshoe-shaped driveway, past the groomed Clydesdales, and towards the bright red, stucco mammoth of a home. Trump fumbles with his huge set of keys and, with a spastic wave of his arms, flings open the mahogany door, adorned with its hundreds of carved, tiny-penised cherubim.
As soon as we’re within, he gallops ahead of me and turns out all the lights in the house. Sérgio Mendes and Brazil 66’s “Look Around” echoes through the darkness from an unseen, scratchy record player. I’m standing at the edge of Trump’s living room—my living room, I guess, although I often strain in the darkness to remember how the space looks and sometimes even feel a brief flutter of skepticism that threatens to pull me out of the dream. If this were real life, wouldn’t navigating my mansion be second nature? Before I can ponder this too much, Trump is whispering into my ear. “You are not going to believe what I’ve done for you,” he growls, flecks of his resultant spittle eliding into a phlegmy glob on my right ear. It’s still pitch black, but I’m hearing rustlings all around me. We are not alone in this house. I must have a mother. And I think we have some dogs.
“Hey Dad,” I ask tentatively. “Are there a ton of dogs in here?” Trump raises his voice to a donkey warble. “Oh, ho, ho ho! A lot of dogs, you ask? Just look, David! Just look at these fuckers! They’re all for you, and I have a feeling you’re going to love each and evv-err-y one of them!” With this exclamation, Trump-Dad flips the light switch to our living room, emblazoning the canopy of chandeliers above and revealing hundreds of spaniels lounging upon the Eames chairs, the beige couches, and the violet, furry rugs. Cocker spaniels, Water spaniels, King Charles spaniels, Springer spaniels, all intermingled and breathing softly in their golden collars, occupy every inch of horizontal space. Each dog is in perfect profile so I can only see one eye, like painted Egyptian princes ready to meet their courtiers. “Aren’t they goddamn incredible?” Trump pants, looking to me with goopy lids that blink impossibly quickly in wait for my praise. I start to reply, but then hear the familiar booming white noise and swoosh of upward motion. Thank God this is just a dream. Before I escape, however, I hear a sound like a snapping spine and all of the dogs turn their pristine faces to look at me in exact synchronicity. They stare, their eyes black pools of empty pain floating above their glorious snouts, and then I’m sitting up in my sweat-drenched bed.
“A nightmare?” Sally’s sleepy voice lilts from next to me. I close my eyes and visualize my truths in fluorescent block letters to get my grounding. I’VE NEVER MET DONALD TRUMP. I AM A JUNIOR AT HARVARD. MY FATHER HAS BEEN DEAD FOR FOURTEEN YEARS.
“Yea, the Trump and Spaniel one again,” I mumble, trying to sound calm. She starts to laugh and covers her mouth with her hand. “It’s okay,” I say as I lean back on my pillow, put my hand over my diaphragm, and slowly take in as much air as my lungs will hold. My breathing slowly stabilizes. “It is kind of funny, I guess—he’s so Trump and the whole day we spend together is unbelievably painful. I feel almost stupid for being so gullible every time.” Then I see the dogs’ eyes again. “Sally, I don’t really understand why, but it’s seriously the scariest thing in the world when the spaniels all look at me.”
“The spaniels’ eyes specifically? Not Trump’s?” Sally, now fully awake, also has recurring nightmares and is impossibly patient when dealing with the Trump dream.
“No, Trump’s eyes are just gross. But the dogs’ eyes—they have childhood stuff in them. The pupils physically hurt me.” I’m doing some of this for effect; I’ve tried to wring the fun out of the dream by offering orations during irresponsibly lengthy Adams dining hall lunches, and I feel some of the same self-indulgence emerging during Sally’s late night psychoanalysis.
MALE AUTHORITY FIGURE MONOLOGUE-ASIDE #1: MOMENTS BEFORE 8TH GRADE GRADUATION, MAY 2009
Friend’s Dad: “The best way to honor your father, David—and I mean this as pure encouragement, pure positivity—is to keep being graceful as you become a man. I don’t care that I had to tie your tie before your graduation. That isn’t the point. The point is that it would take fifteen, twenty minutes tops to learn how to tie your own tie. Don’t you think it’s probably a little bit demoralizing for your mom? Do you expect her to watch a YouTube tutorial so that she can teach you herself? I’m not trying to sound harsh, seriously. Big occasions just sometimes feel like the right time for a reminder. Obviously, this is a celebration of the work you’re doing every day. Don’t forget that. But I think you yourself know that it’s time…
II. BALBOA PARK: 2009
Balboa Park—where the baseball team practiced and the stoners smoked joints while dangling from their perches up in the Eucalyptus trees—was a three minute walk downhill from Lick-Wilmerding High School. It was the second week of my freshman year and I jogged Ocean Avenue alone in my new cleats and baseball pants, stretching out my cramped throwing arm in windmill circles. The J Train Line, which ferried the students without Mercedes-Benz carpools back to their abodes, roared down the street beside me. As the train passed, I caught a glimpse of five impossibly square-jawed junior boys laughing at my anxious preparations through its graffitied window. I tried to shrug back at them in a way that both acknowledged my lameness and also emanated advanced self-awareness, but I don’t think they saw me.
Junior teasing notwithstanding, my optimism was at an all-time high. Not only had I been cast as one of the brothers (Simeon!) in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but Hanley Pacheco, the legendary varsity coach who had in the last year led LWHS to its fourth consecutive BCL West Championship, wanted to see me throw. Hanley Pacheco—the grizzled television salesman and Vietnam Vet who had transformed the lowly baseball team into a machine of finesse and masculine pathos. Just a day earlier, Coach Hanley had walked down the lineup of anxious, acned newbies at the end of the first official practice, scratched his graying head, adjusted his Aviators, and wordlessly pointed at me. He probably only wanted me because I was left handed and had been willing to run the field more times than anybody else. Whatever the reason for my audience with Coach, I was far more scared than I had been before my rendition of “Close Every Door to Me,” my Joseph audition for our flamboyant drama director Miguel. Coach Hanley was a gruff, systematic military man at a school where three different teachers in my first week of study—including two men—had suggested that world peace would only be achieved once male genitalia had been eliminated.
Coach tossed the ball back. “Try a lower arm slot,” he yelled from behind home plate. I was already throwing from the lowest angle I had ever affected, slingshotting the ball straight out from my body instead of up over my head. Every heartbeat vibrated in my shoulder as I stared at the catcher’s glove, sixty feet away through the wind-swept dust that separated the mound from home plate. A shaky glance down at my watch informed me that I was entering hour three of the pitching intensive. Hanley and the catcher were working on my two-seam fastball and I was getting increasingly excited as I saw the seams start to cut more violently across the plate and into the catcher’s ratty mitt. This man is a baseball wizard.
Back in the dugout, Hanley reached into a red cooler and came up clutching a handful of ice for my arm . “That was a nice first throw, kid,” he said as he gave me a taut handshake on my throwing hand that briefly brought the fingers back to life. His voice was a gravelly drawl that felt straight out of a John Wayne western, as if we had just finished corralling steer and shooting rattlesnakes rather than tweaking my windup. He grabbed my throbbing arm and gave it a squeeze that was somehow didn’t feel creepy. “Come for the varsity practice tomorrow and we’ll see what you can do. You’ve got a strong head on your shoulders and a strong arm under them.” He sounded sincere in a way that only those without a liberal arts education can. A whirlwind daydream began playing in my mind as I headed, almost skipping with joy, to the train station: Hanley crafting me into a world-class pitcher, teaching me how to skeet shoot, bringing me on one of the legendary Hawaii trips the Starting Nine on the team took every Spring...
The next morning at 8 AM, things weren’t quite as bright. I’d stayed up late writing my first English paper and kept dropping the ball in warmups because the sun was getting in my eyes. It occurred to me that I hadn’t even played a real game of baseball for the last eighteen months and the bulging muscles of the heavily-stubbled, senior behemoths surrounding me were taking on a decidedly violent valence. And, however much I tried to put Hanley’s moment of kindness in the dugout out of my mind, I kept looking over at the coach, with his arms crossed and a pen sticking out of his tight-lipped mouth, and imagining the positive effects his stoic tutelage could have on my whole psyche. If only I could hold myself together.
I was already panting after several minutes of field jogs with Danny Bandocci, a hulking, incredibly charismatic, soon-to-be Division I third-basemen, and the rest of the decidedly post-pubescent squad all the way to the fence of Balboa Park’s potholed complex. The team headed towards the dugout in preparation for the scrimmage that I assumed was the centerpiece of each practice. The ever-present J Church rattled by and I strained to hear Hanley’s voice over its clanging warning bell. “David, first base.” I literally almost shat myself. When was the last time I was at first? Fourth grade? Maybe fifth grade? Still clenching my bowels, I lingered after the other players had jogged robotically onto the field to protest Hanley’s shocking assignment.
“Coach Hanley, I’ve never even seen any of these guys throw before.” I heard balls snapping into gloves with sonic booms behind me that I’d only ever heard when rich friends took me to their nice seats at Giants games. “And they’re huge,” I heard myself say, instantly regretful of the statement, brutally conscious of my nasal timber, and fighting off images of myself as a small piggy.
“One of these guys told me you’re a theater kid.” He delivered this line with a ferocious grunt only equaled in my personal aural backlog by my Grandpa Jim’s vaguely senile curses towards Kamakazi pilots who had smashed into his L.S.T. Boat off the coast of the Marshall Islands in 1944. “Well, let’s see how well you can act,” he grinned as he gestured me out of the dugout and onto the hard dirt of the infield. Senior left-fielder and Student Body President, the curly-haired, pious Davy Flemming was an improbable sport-theater hybrid who was starring as Joseph in the musical and had seemingly told Hanley of my thespian exploits. He waved kindly from left field as I kicked around the first-base bag and contemplated my impending doom. The same catcher—I didn’t know his name—who had facilitated my triumphant session the previous afternoon was tossing ground balls to the other infielders. He started with Bandocci at third. I squinted and focused in on his meaty throwing hand as he scooped up the grounder and threw in my direction. The ball made a loud hiss, but I never even saw its contours as it careened into my shin and bounced away towards the mound. My leg hurt about as much as any injury I ever had experienced. After a few minutes of rolling around the infield and a cursory injury-check from Hanley (“you’re fine, get up”), I limped off the field and sat silent, biting my lip, while I seethed. I knew it was only a matter of time before Hanley would waddle over and dismiss me.
The scrimmage went on for a couple of innings while I sat and massaged the growing purple bruise on my shin. In the middle of the fourth inning, Hanley finally arrived. “Maybe you should stick to the musical theater, kid,” he said eventually. I opened my mouth to offer a defense. “Even a pitcher has to know how to field a Bandocci Bullet. Try out again in the spring, though.” He patted me condescendingly on the shoulder and strolled away. If Hanley Pacheco was the price I had to pay to succeed in the rough and tumble world of high school sports, I guessed I had to stick to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
MALE AUTHORITY FIGURE MONOLOGUE/ASIDE #2: MOMENTS BEFORE TAKING THE MOUND IN THE SAN FRANCISCO PONY LEAGUE PLAYOFFS, MAY 2007.
Shortstop’s Dad and Assistant Coach of the SF Blue Jays: “You really don’t get how good of a pitcher you are, David. And I keep hearing from my son that its ‘Opera this, opera that,’ dressing up in tunics and smearing makeup all over your face. You belong on that mound! You own that mound! I know your mom is a singer and she’s probably pressuring you to follow in her footsteps. And-and-and that makes sense! You’re all she’s got; she’s all you’ve got. But I’m telling you: If you give your all to this game, it will take you far. An if you keep prancing around on that stage, what are you gonna do? Be a professional angel? Wasn’t that the last role you played? Cupid? Seriously? So get out there and throw that ball as hard as you fricking can…
III. JUDAIC STUDIES: 2007
My sixth grade Judaic Studies teacher, Mr. Skine, was a Modern Orthodox ex-Londoner, forty years old, cloyingly conservative, and looked like E.H. Shepard’s hedgehog illustrations in The Wind in the Willows; portly, beady eyes, frizzed hair, and a body that mysteriously suggested impending motion in all directions. He was in his first year of teaching at Brandeis Hillel Day School, the shiny private school that had been my home since kindergarten. I was obsessed with performing well enough to get scholarship money at one of the city’s three best college preparatory schools, a process that in the increasingly elitist, tech-funded world of San Francisco was just as intense as the college “search.” So I hid my occasional frustrations about Skine’s scathing dismissals of Arabs and defenses of the Iraq War behind flawless test scores and multi-part questions about the Book of Enoch.
By midyear I had inadvertently become Teacher’s Pet, and often spent my tutorial in Skine’s cluttered office, poring over maps and laughing at his impressions of Golda Meier or Woody Allen. We even managed to conduct debates about Netanyahu’s politics and settlements in the West Bank without resorting to the histrionics I’d come to expect from many of my more passionately pro-Israel friends.
“David, I’ve seldom been able to communicate with someone I disagree with quite as much as you,” I remember him saying one day, after I had said that David Ben-Gurion’s speech on Israel’s 10th Anniversary, which we were watching on a scratchy VHS before Judaic Studies class.
“Yea, I feel the same way, Mr. Skine.” I tried to smile but couldn’t even bring myself to make eye contact with this odd little man. I was afraid I would laugh at how surreally romantic the interaction had become. We weren’t buddies, exactly (we never asked each other any personal questions) and I would never not feel tense when he cursed all Palestinians or argued for more dramatic military responses to Gazan mortar attacks. But he had subtly, somehow become my favorite teacher.
Every year, Brandeis had a charity drive where each class voted by ballot to give money to one of several philanthropies. The seventh grade had voted almost unanimously to give the money to a wing of the Red Cross focused on treating areas with the most extreme casualties from the conflict, regardless of national or political affiliations. I was on the Student Council committee that recommended the charity and had worked alongside several of my closest friends on a promotional marker poster of an Israeli girl and a Palestinian boy holding hands while a dove fluttered between them. The charity felt like a trippy locus of all my hopes—and those of many classmates—to find some moderate way forward despite the school’s clear position.
“Strange news, guys,” an especially sweaty Mr. Skine blustered as he ran into class five minutes behind schedule. “The charity your grade initially selected has turned out to be too unreliable. Some parents think the money will end up hurting Israel strategically. We’re going to give instead to an aid group that we can fully trust.” Skine’s mouth turned briefly up into a smug grin as he delivered the message. If he isn’t responsible for this, he certainly helped move the change along. Adi Alouf, decked out in Israeli National basketball team pullover, sweats, and headband, who was born in Tel Aviv and was part of the most aggressively Zionist family I have met to this day, raised her hand.
“My parents talked to the administration and said David and all of them were trying to give the money to the Lebanese.” Are Skine and Adi in cahoots? Are they trying to shame me? I was the only one of the committee in this section of the class and immediately shot up my hand to deliver some ragged defense of the organization. Mr. Skine nodded at Adi, offered some further dismissal of the initial plan, and stared right through my hand. He sees me. He knows I’m not anti-Israel. Why would he do this to me? The little dick won’t even let me defend myself. I kept pushing my hand up higher, even as Skine moved into a lecture on, ironically and probably intentionally, the origins of pro-Israel lobby groups. Soon I was standing and practically foaming at the mouth.
“David, please sit down. This really isn’t up for discussion and you’re interrupting the class,” he chastised. I laughed at your stupid impersonations. I looked at the 1967 and 1973 maps.
“You let Adi tell about her parents’ sway over the administration! You let her single me out! You’re being so incredibly unfair I can’t believe this shit.” I didn’t care if he expelled me.
“Principal’s office right now and a 0 in your participation grade for the week.” He didn’t change his expression while I shook my head back and forth. “NOW! I felt near bursting; I ran in the opposite direction of Mr. Heller’s office, out of the school’s back gate, and into the parking lot that Brandeis shared with an Armenian church down the hill. I called mom in hysterics and ran laps, tears streaming down my face, until she came and picked me up. “Why wouldn’t he let me talk?” I repeated ad nauseum with my head in my hands as mom, livid at my dramatized account, gripped the steering wheel on our way home. I thought about leaving Brandeis; I wasn’t really old or resourceful enough to conduct any meaningful research about the validity of Skine’s and Adi’s claims, so I stopped doing Student Council, put my head down for the next eighteen months of Judaic Studies class, never went to another office hours, and walked away whenever anyone tried to talk about Israel. Skine’s blank stare had made the debate pointless for me.
MALE AUTHORITY FIGURE MONOLOGUE/ASIDE #3: AFTER I INEXPLICABLY PANICKED WHEN MY MOM WAS TEN MINUTES LATE TO MY COUSIN JEFF’S WEDDING RECEPTION AND WOULDN’T ANSWER HER CELLPHONE, JANUARY 2005
Cousin Norm (Best Man): Little Bro, you just can’t freak out like that. You were acting truly crazy! I know your dad died, and that’s super tough, but you’ve gotta trust the world a little bit sometimes. That’s what being a man is all about. Think about Grandpa; that dude fought in a War where shells were falling down around him all the time, but he kept his head up, stayed alert, and we’re both here because of that. So next time you’re worried about your mom, do what you can to track her down and then take it on the chin. Or you’re going to spoil everybody else’s time.
IV. MEDINA: 2005
In sharp contrast with most of my memories from the few years succeeding my father’s death, which are shell-shocked and partial at best, my visit at age ten to my Evangelical cousins in Medina, Ohio plays back today as if a reality TV crew followed me for the whole trip and then stored the tapes in the front chamber of my hippocampus. I have access to every angle of my cousins’ sandstone McMansion, every Razor Scooter race down the steep hill in their driveway, every glance at their creationism-based “science” workbooks, and every burst of unspeakable, quasi-innocent lust at the glittering promise ring on thirteen year-old Laura’s slender right index finger. Laura, usually clad in a comely American flag tank top, led her two younger sisters and me through a week of play that was simultaneously wholesome and incredibly erotically charged—trampoline jumping contests, frog-hunting in the creek behind their house, sweaty bicycle races that ended with the two of us panting on the dewy grass outside of the Jarrett house. For a chubby fifth-grader who was used to quinoa dinners in San Francisco Victorians with my mother and Monchai, her Taiwanese bodybuilder-chef opera student, this was a confusingly salacious heaven.
I was so initially taken with Laura that I hardly paid any attention to my mother’s demure sister Georgia or her pot-bellied, mustached husband Dave. There were a few moments where the idyll had been broken; after one scooter ride, Dave had yelled awfully loudly at Laura to come help with the dinner; The second Sunday we were in Medina, however, the illusion of my narrow paradise was broken. My mom and I accompanied the Jarretts to their cavernous, televisually-advanced megachurch and watched, jaws to the floor, as jogging congregants scooped up kids with Downes Syndrome and other devastating afflictions, brought them onto the stage, and performed a stilted disco. An arena rock-style band providing the soundtrack, soloing dramatically while a large screen above them flashed clip-art of crosses, American flags, and golden babies bathed in ethereal light. I glanced to my right and saw the Jarretts, eyes closed and arms interlocked, swaying along to the beat. Dave, whose nasally commands and holier-than-thou rhetoric had hitherto been drowned under Laura’s sweet birdtones and black jorts, now came into sharp focus. His white knuckles were gripping his family member’s shoulders, and when Laura tried to go to the bathroom he tugged her back into formation. He’s being a tyrant. A vivid montage of initially half-registered Dave barkings (“Don’t talk back!” “Say your prayers!” “Bedtime now!) invaded my aural center and all but drowned out the God Band’s slightly flat rendition of Creed’s “Higher,” now on its sixth and final chorus.
“Is Uncle Dave making them do this?” I whispered to my mom after I wrote her a note in a laminated, CGI-illustrated hymnal that read “THEY ARE CRAZY! HELP! HELP! CAN WE TALK IN LOBBY?”
“Of course not, David.” My mother, who had been beaming the whole week at the Laura-assisted, improbable symbiosis between my burgeoning ultra-progressivism and the Jarretts’ fascism, was doing her best to stop the schism.
“But Laura is so normal and funny and he’s always loud and bossy and I know this is his fault.” I felt the tears well up and jerked anxiously around to see if any of the Christ-zombies were watching this little visiting Baby Jew have his nervous breakdown.
“Dave and Georgia clearly have different expectations than I do,” my mom preached calmly as she held my hand. “But they are being generous hosts and we are their guests, and unless Dave does anything mean to you we have to let them parent the way they want.” I calmed my conspiratory mind as we walked around the rose garden outside and watched the SUVS zoom by on the pristinely blacktopped boulevard that bisected the church’s endless parking lot. I don’t have a dad. When he was alive he was always sick or maybe he would have been more like Dave. I don’t know how dads are supposed to act. Maybe he’s normal.
Back in the family’s gigantic kitchen that evening, however, I couldn’t stop looking at Dave as he tracked his children’s dinner chores with laser eyes. My mom was seated with Georgia at the round, mahogany dining room table, engaged in a guffaw-heavy Scrabble match while I pretended to read a later volume from Walter R. Brooks’s Freddy the Pig series in a cushy armchair in the corner. Every third paragraph, I would go over what I knew about Dave as I watched him pace and offer terse instruction out of the corner of my eye: Born to a zealously religious family in Nebraska; married Georgia when he was 21; converted her from the relaxed Presbyterianism that my mother and her five siblings had grown up with; was a plant manager for 3M and moved his family around every few years; could go from the gentlest man in the world to a militarist at the slightest indication of a threat from any of his kids; believed in some truly wacko, arch-macho nonsense that even I as a child could understand was damaging to poor Laura and her brainwashed sisters!
My mom screamed an operatic High C as Georgia laid down a decisive bingo on the board. “Well, it’s not like I’m ever dramatic!” my mom said sarcastically after all of the kids and Dave dropped what they were doing and stared at her. Mom and I joshed theatrically about her operatic volume all the time back home, so I figured why not start a little scene.
“Oh never, Mom!” I commented with dripping sarcasm.
“You DO NOT talk back to your mother,” yelled Dave as he bee-lined for the armchair. Laura had her head down and my mom was frozen with her hands in the air, as if she were about to intervene but didn’t know if there was a tactful way forward. I didn’t think specifically about provoking Dave’s wrath, but I also was more excited than shocked when all of the Jarretts’ faces went blank and my mom anxiously scanned the room. I can’t let him crush me like this.
“I wasn’t talking back to her, I was agreeing with her!” How far could I go? “Oh, sorry, I guess I’m talking back to you now. That’s probably bad, too, right?” I let out a laugh-bleat as I saw the terror on everyone else’s faces. “Can you even talk to somebody without talking back?” My heart was thumping; a bead of sweat was forming on Dave’s forehead and his usually placid, bushy moustache was quivering like a spastic caterpillar.
“You and I are going to have a talk, young man.” He grabbed my arm and practically lifted me out of the chair. I can still see Freddy and the Spaceship dropping slow motion onto the pink cushion. A blur of faces: my mom, still frozen; Laura, whose shame I frantically imagined hid some sort of rebellious excitement; Georgia, just as pleasant as ever. We were out of the dining room and into the pantry before I could protest.
Dave drilled holes into me with his eyes harder than anyone I’d ever met. “Buddy, buddy, buddy.” He was pleading. My palms began to well up with sweat and I tried to pretend Dave wasn’t there, focusing my mind instead on memorizing the labels on the fruit roll ups, the pancake mix, and the English muffins. Don’t even acknowledge his presence. “I know you lost your papa, but you need to learn how to be a son.” You have no idea what I’ve been through. You don’t know what I’ve done for my mom. You are what she moved to San Francisco to avoid.
“I’m a better son than you’ll ever be a dad,” I mumbled, before fake whispering, in my most exaggerated voice of alarm, “Oh shit...I guess I just talked back again.” I hoped he would hit me and had sick visions of myself running into the dining room, nose swollen and purpled, while he stalked out behind me cackling and speaking gibberish as his tongue dangled out of his mouth at an impossible length and the whole family ran to the hills. Instead, he began to softly and tearlessly cry, his head bouncing up and down like a pious Jack-in-the-Box.
“I really care about you.” He sounded more like Barney than Billy Graham. “And I know you’ve been through a lot. I just want to do what I can to help you grow up strong.” No God speech? No Indian burns? I felt somehow cheated; I’d expected brutality and had been treated to a sad parade. “I know your house isn’t like my house, but you have to play by my rules for the next few days if you want to stay here.” He took a long pause to see if I had some smart-ass retort, but I was too shocked by his honesty to even blink. “And try to learn something about being a man.”
I still kind of hated Dave Jarrett and I still think today that his whole conceptualization of the world is objectively dickish, misogynistic, “what’s wrong with our country,” et cetera. But in his moment of forced parenting, he took the pretentious fight right out of me. The last few days we were in Medina, Dave had me mow the lawn, wake up at dawn with him and go see 3M, sit through three more heartbreaking talks about respect. I didn’t fight back and only engaged when I needed. The night we flew home, I gave a glum farewell to Laura, shook Dave’s hand as hard as I could, and watched out the window of the plane all the way to SFO, wondering how I could have been stronger and inventing sons and dads for the little speckled towns 45,000 feet below. I was about as sad as I’d ever been.
MALE AUTHORITY FIGURE MONOLOGUE/ASIDE #4: MY THERAPIST, A DAY AFTER MY FATHER’S DEATH, APRIL 2002.
Dr. Stein: You’ll always have the memories, David; the songs you shared, the hugs he gave you, the way he looked before he got sick. Keep those close. Don’t forget them. Does that make sense? He will always be your father and you will always be his son. But don’t be afraid to find other dads. Don’t be afraid to let people help you. You’re a big boy. He’s always going to be in your heart, no matter what.
V. TRUMP’S SPANIEL’S PART TWO: 2016
Sally indulges my late night ramble and sits at my desk sketching Dave Jarrett’s mustache on a Post-It. “So you’re afraid of the spaniels because they represent the judgment of all these aggressive guys who have tried to mentor you and end up being mean?” Her monotone suggests she is disappointed by the admittedly lame payoff. Was that all I was trying to say? It’s not like I feel that torn up about my rejections from Evangelical Christianity, AIPAC, or being a first baseman.
Out of nowhere I’m crying, mostly out of embarrassment at how these supposedly traumatizing encounters are so condescending and whiney. Kids are being ruthlessly abused by actual tyrants all over the world, and here I am bemoaning a few awkward flare-ups with men who were genuinely just trying to help me develop a thicker skin. So what if we disagreed about macho shit; tough luck, kid. The privilege litany begins, the perpetual guilt games are spinning into over-drive. I give up on trying to validate the fear that the Trump dream brings up. I have a great line that I had originally used in one of my dining hall orations (“It’s not that I can’t handle the spaniels looking at me, it’s that I can’t handle not being able to look back”) and, as we crawl back into bed, I’m just about to say it in a sort of dark attempt to make Sally laugh and dismiss the whole thing. Then, as can so magically happen with dreams, I remember a part of the action that I have forgotten.
In the corner of Trump’s living room is a portrait that I never fully see. As I float away towards waking, right before the dogs turn towards me, I jerk my neck to try to fill in the blanks. Is it a portrait of me with the Trumps? How trippy would that be. Dreams are insane. The portrait unblurs enough for me to tell that it’s my actual father, Daniel Kurlander; I can see the mischievous, Cheshire Cat curve of his smile, a look that I’m not sure I recognize from pictures or from real life. I’m flooded with sudden, crushing guilt that I had ever forgotten him, even in this fleeting dream. But even though I see that it’s Daniel, my dad, I can’t make him come into focus. Only the spaniels are crisp, and Trump’s devilish guffaw. I try desperately to conjure up some coherent image of the man I had lost, whose voice I so want to use to drown out the pain of what his absence wrought. All I could find was a snippet, but I managed to calm myself down and fall back asleep.
MALE AUTHORITY FIGURE MONOLOGUE/ASIDE #5: MY FATHER, SHOWING ME HIS RUBBER SOUL LP, 2000.
Dan Kurlander: Davy, look at the stretched-out faces. They were all about being clowns, you know. It goes George, John, Ringo, Paul, left to right. Electric guitar like my red one, rhythm guitar like my yellow one, drums, and bass guitar, which is like a normal guitar but without two of the strings. And they all sing on this record. There are something like nine other ones. Actually, I guess they all sing on all of them. Anyway, I hope they mean something to you and help you find what you love a little bit. I’m going to put the record on and come right back. Daddy has to go get dressed and try to get well, Davy Bear.